Sunday, October 4, 2020

Does unity through sport undermine democracy?



In a brilliantly written essay, the author takes us through years of activism by Black athletes. Starting with Carlos and Smith's raised fists in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games through the more recent kneeling by Kaepernick. Most importantly, the author deconstructs the rhetoric around the reactions to these public protests and critiques the frequently alluded unifying attribute of sport.

The essay frames sport as an optimal space for legitimizing rivalry without romanticizing it. Most notorious is the call for sport as a space to preserve contest, not unity. Although the author acknowledges sports' ability to unify, it cautions against using it unquestioningly as a unifying agent at the expense of healthy democratic dissent and the pluralism that defines the United States. Finally, it makes a case for activism in sport, such as disrupting the national anthem, not as a threat to unity, but its illusion. An illusion that is more threatening to democratic health than the activism itself. 

The author mentions the "inside these lines" NFL commercial within the article and commented that an NFL spokesperson stated, “We think this is the single best response to demonstrate what we are about. It stands in stark contrast to someone who practices the politics of division” (Stetler, 2017, as cited in Butterworth, 2020, p. 465). However, later comments this could have been directed either at President Trump or Kaepernick. Who do you think this was directed at? and why? Also, share your thoughts after reading the article. Does unity in sport undermine the pluralistic values necessary for a democratic society? Have the claims for unity attenuated the purposes of the protest/activism?  


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Butterworth, M. L. (2020). Sport and the Quest for Unity: How the Logic of Consensus Undermines Democratic Culture. Communication & Sport, 8(4-5), 452-472. 2167479519900160.

10 comments:

  1. I believe that it was stated towards Trump. I believe that his comments that he made publicly made people take a side and it even drove away people that have been fans of the NFL for years. I believe it was made towards Trump because the NFL wants to avoid public pressure to back their players. It was not until the NFL Draft of 2020 that the League and commissioner of the NFL Roger Goddell made a public statement of standing behind their players.

    Does unity in sport undermine the pluralistic values necessary for a democratic society? Have the claims for unity attenuated the purposes of the protest/activism?

    No, I believe that sport help unify the people in this country that want to see change and it helsp give people that whose voice is not heard a platform that people need to hear and be more activated towards addressing the problems.

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  2. I don't think that unity in sports has undermine a democratic society in my opinion. I think people like Kolin Kaepernick and other activist in sports want people to understand their views and beliefs and just know where their coming from. At the end of the day, people may unite for one thing but that doesn't mean that they all agree on every single thing.

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  3. Unity is an important factor in sports. Not only is it seen in games and team performance, it's also seen in different forms of activism and protest. Athletes often come together to speak out for others and be a voice of change. With that being said, I do not believe unity in sport lessens the power or effectiveness of democracy since individuals are still entitled to their own rights and beliefs about different social and controversial issues around the world. Unity does not always mean agreeing on things, but respecting and accepting the opinions of those who may believe differently.

    -Laniya Jackson

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  4. I really appreciated this post. Not only do these athletes have a huge voice, but they all have to work together and come together to work to succeed a common goal which is in most cases social activism.

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  5. I appreciate this post but unity is a very important factor in sports. Although people on the same team may not agree on the same politics, they seem to find a way to come together, to be a 'unit' and speak out for each other. They may not always agree but they respect each others opinion and beliefs on things that are important to them. -AnnaW.

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  6. I personally think that the initial making of the commercial was not intended for anyone in specific. It was a focus to try to promote sport specifically the NFL as a unifying league and how their new push to change the image from the NFL's awful handling of public relations prior. They were simply attempting to shift the focus. I do believe the second resurgence of the commercial in September was a little jab at President Trump. I have a hard time attributing this as a preemptive response a year before President Trump stirs the pot some more.
    I thought the article was very well written and did a very good job approaching a very touchy topic with a different approach. I did really appreciate and agree with the concept of complete unity not being feasible with the celebrated diversity and what makes our country great but it is the rivalry or preservation of respectful division that we need to strive for as that is how we can gain unity. We need to all respect our competition! In this case the competition is our differing beliefs, values, cultures, and come together to truly be unified.
    -Scott Ewertz

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  7. I believe the comments regarding political divisiveness were directed at Trump. Perhaps that is simply what I want to believe, because regarding Kaepernick taking a knee, that is not a political issue, it is a human issue. As far as unity within sport and its effect on the concept of competition and acrimony, I think it is necessary for these to coexist. Unity and division represent two of the most significant reasons we partake in sports. We want to feel a part of something, and we also want to compete, the two concept are not mutually exclusive. Regarding activism, I think unity actually lends to a greater strength behind a cause. As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. I think the video does an excellent job of portraying the duality of sport.

    Kelli Pavley

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